Healthy Lifestyle May Help Mitigate an Individual’s High Genetic Risk of Cancer

Exercise, healthFUL diet, no smoking or drinking are correlated with lower risk for cancer even in people with higher risk based on their genetic makeup.

A healthy lifestyle is associated with a lower chance of developing cancer, even in people with a high genetic risk, according to a study published in Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.  

“Our findings indicate that everyone should have a healthy lifestyle to decrease overall cancer risk,” said co-senior author of the study Guangfu Jin, PhD, a professor at Nanjing Medical University in China. “This is particularly important for individuals with a high genetic risk of cancer.”  

The study took into account lifestyle factors such as abstinence from smoking and drinking, low body mass index, and exercise, as self-reported by participants in a large database in the United Kingdom. Genetic risk is calculated based on changes in DNA that influence cancer risk.  

Among patients with high genetic risk, the five-year cancer incidence was 7.23 percent in men and 5.77 percent in women with an unfavorable lifestyle, which fell to 5.51 percent in men and 3.69 percent in women with a favorable lifestyle. The decreased percentages are comparable to the cancer risk in individuals with intermediate genetic risk, Jin said. Similar trends were observed in all genetic risk categories, suggesting that patients could benefit from a healthy lifestyle regardless of genetic risk.  

The study also showed that 97 percent of patients had a high genetic risk (top quintile) for at least one type of cancer type. 

“This suggests that almost everyone is susceptible to at least one type of cancer,” Jin said. “It further indicates the importance of adherence to a healthy lifestyle for everyone.”  

To determine genetic risk, the researchers utilized genotype information from 202,842 men and 239,659 women from the U.K. Biobank, a cohort of general-population participants recruited from England, Scotland, and Wales between 2006 and 2009, and calculated a cancer polygenic risk score (CPRS) for each individual based on their genetic makeup.  

Patients with the highest quintile CPRS were nearly twice as likely (for men) and 1.6 times as likely (for women) to have a cancer diagnosis by their most recent follow-up, in 2015 or 2016.  

“We hope our CPRS could be useful to improve a person’s awareness of their inherited susceptibility of cancer as a whole and facilitate them to participate in healthy activities,” Jin said